Today is going to be different. I’m going to talk about depression, without flippancy or silly captions. I’m going to share something I’ve only skirted around here before. It seems the most appropriate response to today’s sad news.
I was in my mid teens when I discovered Dead Poets Society. I loved that film and what it stood for, the idea that we could break the mould of expectation and live the lives we wanted. The film’s ending, which shows how social disapproval can break some people but can never break those dreams, added to the film’s power.
Over the years that followed I lost track of that message, of the value of living the life your really, truly want. That led to years wasted in dissatisfaction, followed by my own fight with depression, a fight that I still face even as I type these words. I am healthier and happier for facing that depression, for acknowledging and coming to terms with it, but it has been, and still is, a terrible journey.
That e-book I’ve been talking about for ages? The one I’ve got a cover for, remember that? The main reason it’s not out there and in the hands of readers is my struggle with depression. Because sometimes, when I get emotionally tangled, a ten minute task can feel like a labour beyond the will of Hercules.
The sad news that Dead Poets Society star Robin Williams killed himself following a battle with depression therefore feels horribly poignant. While I have never felt a suicidal impulse, I understand why someone suffering the crushing weight of depression might take that way out. It is never the right answer, but when you feel an unbearable strain just at the thought of getting out of bed in the morning, of deciding what to eat, of putting on your pants, it’s easy to see how oblivion appeals. I wish that he had found another way. I wish that more people did.
For all that our culture has spent years trying to teach us to follow our dreams, society shows us a very different model. That we should live the lives expected of us. That we should not try to live by our desires or express our despairs. It’s no wonder that depression is so prevalent, or so misunderstood.
Clinical depression is not just a bad mood. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain that can make it impossible to recover without help. It often goes undiagnosed and untreated, festering and worsening.
There is no shame in seeking help when you are feeling down, in seeking medical advice and rest when the sad feelings become too much. The part of your brain that’s telling you to be strong, to pull yourself together, to keep it all in – that’s bullshit, that’s like telling someone with a broken leg to go run a marathon. It’s keeping you from getting better, and it’s making the problem worse.
People around you will want to help. Let them.
I’m going to finish with a section taken from the NHS website on symptoms of depression. Please, have a read, and if you think there’s a chance you might be suffering from depression then go and see your doctor. If there’s someone close to you who you think might be suffering, share the list with them.
I struggle with depression still, but it has got better. It keeps getting better. There is always hope.
From the NHS symptoms of clinical depression page:
If you experience some of these symptoms for most of the day, every day for more than two weeks, you should seek help from your GP.
Psychological symptoms include:
- continuous low mood or sadness
- feeling hopeless and helpless
- having low self-esteem
- feeling tearful
- feeling guilt-ridden
- feeling irritable and intolerant of others
- having no motivation or interest in things
- finding it difficult to make decisions
- not getting any enjoyment out of life
- feeling anxious or worried
- having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself
Physical symptoms include:
- moving or speaking more slowly than usual
- change in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased)
- unexplained aches and pains
- lack of energy or lack of interest in sex (loss of libido)
- changes to your menstrual cycle
- disturbed sleep (for example, finding it hard to fall asleep at night or waking up very early in the morning)
Social symptoms include:
- not doing well at work
- taking part in fewer social activities and avoiding contact with friends
- neglecting your hobbies and interests
- having difficulties in your home and family life